Nothing says summer quite like a spot of outdoor performance with a picnic. The Scoop between Tower Bridge and London Bridge is a great spot for such entertainment: a large amphitheatre on the river, with plenty of shops nearby in which to pick up food and drink to bring to the show. Best of all, the entertainment they lay on for the summer is free. The Pantaloons are at the Scoop for a few days before setting off on their summer tour with an adapted Pride & Prejudice is trademark Pantaloons style.
Fans of the novel and its various film and television incarnations are in for a treat, though this is unlike any Pride & Prejudice ever seen before. Five actors take on all the roles and add narration to keep the story moving at a brisk pace. They are decked in Regency costume other than brightly coloured trainers, capturing the feel of the play: genuine with a touch of playful irreverence. With the addition of improvisation, music and audience interaction, this is a jolly production that captures the joie de vivre of historical popular theatre.
Barring Alex Rivers as Elizabeth, the other actors multi-role, playing the more minor characters as panto caricatures. The Bennett girls’ friend Charlotte Lucas is a shallow, tea-drinking gossip. Christopher Smart is an amusingly pompous and geeky Mr Collins. Both Smart and the other male actor Edward Ferrow occasionally take on female roles, like a more sedate version of panto dames. These lighter moments involve much chatting with the audience and self-mocking any line fluffs. Wisely, the silliness is disregarded in favour of sincerity in the longer, more serious scenes. The show has the perfect balance between silly and serious, following Elizabeth and Darcy’s love story despite the compression of the plot. The entire cast give excellent performances, carrying though the challenge of working outdoors and attacking the script with energy and enthusiasm. They clearly love what they do.
Both audience and performers are relaxed and enjoying themselves. The script mocks more traditional versions of the story, but doesn’t take itself too seriously, either. With the audience free to come and go as well as the feel of a summertime community gathering, the event is reminiscent of The Globe, or a team of travelling players on their summer rounds to places great and small. Which is exactly what The Pantaloons are.
The play runs for about two and a half hours, with an interval. Whilst it is satisfying to see a full-length show for free, it began to feel like it could do with being shorter. Though the Scoop is a great venue, sitting on stone in the Thames wind does get rather uncomfortable after awhile. The length is probably more palatable in a sheltered park with deck chairs or blankets. Condensing the original novel to this length is commendable, but could do with being half an hour shorter. Considering the audience freedom, an interval isn’t particularly necessary either.
As The Pantaloons Pride & Prejudice travels through the country stopping off at scenic estates and venues, it is certainly worth catching this excellent example of summer popular theatre. Bring your friends, family and a picnic, and revel in the community enjoying and celebrating theatre accessable for everyone.
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